Ahead of our wedding, an older couple that my fiancé and I admired made a suggestion: a screen-free honeymoon. We jumped at the idea and immediately committed, looking forward to an opportunity to enjoy each other’s company as newlyweds and the destination we were traveling to without the distraction of texts, calls, or social media. But the day after our wedding, I had second thoughts about the plan. We were on such a high from our wedding, and we loved immediately reliving it by looking at friends’ Instagram posts, in addition to all the texts guests sent us. But, as we landed at our destination, I reluctantly turned off my phone and went “off the grid” for our whole honeymoon. Despite my hesitation, I’m so glad I did—in fact, I recommend it to every engaged couple I know.
Why do a screen-free vacation?
In a world inundated with screens, the Internet, and social media, the effects of unplugging for an hour, a day, a month, or getting off social media are widely acknowledged. Although we know better, most of us have at some point “phubbed” (short for “phone-snubbed”) a loved one trying to talk to us. (You know the scene—a loved one is trying to talk to you, and as you scroll through your phone, you offer an “mmhmm” and occasionally look up to nod.) Despite our best intentions, our screens can get in the way of our relationships, including our marriages.
Without the distraction and noise (both literal and mental) of our phones, we have the space to give our spouse our undivided attention. Unplugging from work, emails, social media, and everything back home allows us to be mentally and physically present. Being plugged in to your screens, even when you’re thousands of miles away, can make it feel as if you never left. You get an email from your boss and you’re right there mentally—back at work. You’re constantly texting Grandma about how your kids are doing, and you’re right back at home. You’re checking social media and thinking about the fun you’re friends are having, instead of focusing on the fun you are having on vacation. Shutting all that off allows you to actually recharge and enjoy your vacation, and—better yet—you get to do that with your spouse.
Whether it’s your honeymoon or your twentieth-anniversary weekend getaway, going screen-free on a vacation with your spouse strengthens your marriage. For newlyweds, it helps lay a solid foundation for a lifetime of love. For seasoned couples, it offers a retreat-like atmosphere, a respite away from the usual stressors and pressures of life, that can fortify your marriage. Unplugging for a spousal vacation allows space for both physical and emotional intimacy. Spending such quality time with your spouse may remind you just how much fun you have together, just the two of you (something you don’t get to do as often when weighed down by financial burdens, the demands of work, and raising a family). It may create space for you to appreciate a quality you haven’t noticed in your spouse before or haven’t seen in a long time (and vice versa). A screen-free vacation or honeymoon may just be the spark that enlivens a tired marriage or ignites a brand new one.
How to do it
A screen-free vacation doesn’t mean you have to leave your phones at home—especially if you use them to take pictures. Simply switch on airplane mode, which will disable Internet or cellular ability while still being able to access your camera. If you have a real camera (point and shoot or DSLR) then you can turn your phones completely off, or leave them at home. You can give family members the number of your hotel (yes, that’s a thing!) in case of emergency. If you’re really worried about someone being able to get ahold of you (maybe you have small children at home or you’re not staying at a hotel), one of you can leave your phone on. If only one of you has phone accessibility, you’re more likely to stay the course. You both can’t simultaneously get sucked into the black holes that are our phones if one of your phones is off. If one of you is going to do this, hold each other accountable to not checking or using the working phone.
Don’t bother bringing clunky computers or tablets when you won’t be using them. Set up an auto-reply for email and let your colleagues/boss know that you will be completely inaccessible (no matter whether you are honeymooning just down the road or halfway across the world).
As for streaming, it’s more ubiquitous than ever. It may be tempting to justify that streaming a movie is something you can both enjoy together, but I’d encourage you to push yourselves outside of your comfort zones. Especially if you tend to enjoy TV, movies, or computer time at home, now is a great opportunity to re-engage with each other in a new way.
Social media can be the biggest time suck, which is why going full airplane mode or no phones is best. If you have to keep Internet accessibility, temporarily delete or set limits for those apps in your phone settings. If you want to share your awesome vacation, social media will be waiting for you when you get back (#latergram).
If going completely off the grid—no phones, TV, computer, tablet—feels scary or impossible, you can at least take baby steps in that direction. If you can’t go completely dark, try to eliminate at least one source of technological noise; maybe you set up an auto-reply for your email and commit to not answering or even looking at work emails, but you keep your phone on. Or, maybe you turn off access to all social media apps (you can do this in most phone settings) but keep your phone on for texts or calls. Maybe you and your spouse decide to go 90 percent screen-free, but leave one hour of the day when you can check your phone for emails, texts, or social media. Then, the next time you go on a couples vacation, see if you can take another step toward being completely tech-free during that time.
Try it at home
Maybe you don’t have a couples vacation planned anytime soon, or you simply can’t afford to go on vacation. Or, maybe you went on a screen-free vacation and want to bring some of those benefits back home. You can absolutely employ techniques and principles from a screen-free honeymoon at home. If you watch a show together every night after the kids go to bed or when you both get home from work, maybe you opt to talk, play a board game, or do a new activity one night a week together instead. Or, if you want to stick to watching something together, you can watch a romantic movie and have a discussion about it afterwards—research indicates that you can actually improve your relationship by doing so!
A boundary that you can set with screens that benefit your marriage (and your sleep!) is making your bedroom phone free. When we have phones at our bedside tables, we are tempted to look at them before bed and when we first wake up. This not only impacts our sleep, but it can cut into our relationship with our spouse, as this striking picture of a couple lying in bed, backs facing each other, holding up their hands as if they’re looking at their phones depicts. During time that we could be engaging with each other in conversation or intimacy, we retreat to our own separate worlds. Charging your phone in the bathroom or the kitchen at night and using a real alarm clock is a simple tool. It encourages you and your spouse to turn toward each other in your moments alone, just like you are encouraged to do on a screen-free vacation.
Finally, if the idea of being alone with your spouse without some kind of distraction (be it phone, TV, or something else) feels awkward or uncomfortable, this may be a sign that your marriage needs some tending to. Whether you are just in a rough patch or things have been tailspinning for years, a couples therapist can help.
Author Anne Lamott wisely said, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” Whether it’s only a few minutes at home or a week-long vacation, unplugging is undoubtedly good for our physical, mental, and relational health. We just have to have the mental discipline to do it.